“Darling you got to let me know”
(Is there a formal onboarding process in place?)
“Should I stay or should I go?”
(Engagement! Performance! Retention!)
“If you say that you are mine”
(Well, I only just started here, so…)
“I’ll be here ‘til the end of time”
(Well, that’s absurd to assume, even with a ‘perfect’ job…)
“So you got to let me know”
(Okay, seriously, is there a formal onboarding process in place?)
“Should I stay or should I go?”
(Engagement! Performance! Retention!)
When The Clash produced “Should I Stay or Should I Go” in 1981, lead vocalist Mick Jones probably wasn't thinking about the importance of onboarding. And, if we’re being honest, the Spanish background lyrics in the original song probably sound more pleasing to ears than the onboarding chorus I crafted above. Nevertheless, from a business perspective, the chorus can be comically used to illustrate a new hire’s intent to stay with or leave a company. Your employees’ first three to six months of employment and first experiences as a member of your team in onboarding have a disproportionately huge influence on the likelihood they will stay. Ultimately, that comes down to making new hires feel confident, competent, and a sense of belonging.
Onboarding – or what geeky Industrial-Organizational Psychology professionals sometimes call “socialization” – is how you transition someone from a candidate to a fully contributing member of your team. This goes far beyond W-2’s and health insurance. It’s how you get them up to speed on their responsibilities, but also how you foster opportunities for them to thrive and build positive bonds across your team. At its core, it’s about making sure the new hire has a remarkable experience that gives them the confidence, competence, and sense of belonging to move forward.
Simply having an onboarding process does not guarantee you will have an enthusiastic and competent employee (just like me writing a song doesn't make me Mick Jagger). The onboarding process must be planned, structured, and implemented with deliberation and intention. Given that I’m currently going through the onboarding process in my new position at work, it feels like the right time to talk about this topic. I’d like to focus on a few key takeaways that can make your onboarding successful – so your employees will never ask the question, “Should I stay or should I go?”.
Step One: Make their first day remarkable – not full of paperwork and brief introductions.
Simply filling out a mound of paperwork and introducing new hires to their coworkers doesn’t make for a remarkable experience. Show them how excited you are to have them aboard! This doesn’t happen if you bury him or her in paperwork on the first day. The onboarding process should extend well beyond the employee’s first few days in the company. In fact, you may want to have a one-year plan in place so employees can get up to speed and make the most of the unique talent and skill they brought your company . Obviously, this is going to vary by company and circumstance. If your business is seasonal (e.g., accounting, retail), careful training as you go through the different cycles of the year can help to ensure you aren’t putting a high performing employee into a situation that sets them up for failure. Your onboarding program should last as long as it takes for new hires to develop meaningful relationships with coworkers, gain proficiency on all job tasks, and have a firm understanding of your culture, processes, and procedures. Without this, retention will always fall short.
Step Two: Focus on Feedback and Development
Companies lose over 30% of their new hires sometime during their first six months of employment . This can be prevented by providing total support for your employees’ development beyond the first few days or even the first month. You may want to have specific conversations at certain times during the employee’s tenure. This can identify concerns before they become problems and better support the employee’s success. For example, setting up a meeting with your new employee at the 30-day mark can allow for questions such as “What’s been going well? What hasn’t been going so well? Is there anything you aren’t understanding about your job or the company?” These conversations can extend through the first three to six months as well to support his or her development and acclimation to the culture.
Step Three: Involve Everyone!
New employees have the greatest likelihood of success when everyone owns the onboarding process: you, your team, and the new employee. First and foremost, the immediate manager must be completely bought into the onboarding process. The level of managerial support provided during onboarding has implications for role clarity and job satisfaction . And of course, role clarity and job satisfaction directly impact some of those key outcomes of effective onboarding that we hope will come to fruition, such as high performance, engagement, and retention. Successful onboarding should extend beyond the manager, however, and should include all current employees. By including coworkers, this helps facilitate the development of lasting, meaningful relationships to support the new hire’s transition into his or her role. Involving everyone establishes expectations, identifies concerns, work style preferences, and potential obstacles for success. This is a wonderful opportunity for strong performers to take on training roles, or act as a new hire mentor, guide, or even Sherpa – supporting the new hire’s success.
Step Four: Functional Training
In addition to extending onboarding beyond the employee’s first month in their role and getting acclimated to the company’s culture and members, functional training should be a part of the process. Functional training provides an overview of the company’s products and services, customers, and company structure. Try including this early in small amounts. This gives new employees competence and confidence in their new roles. Additionally, training should include getting familiar with various systems used by the company (e.g., data software, Intranet, e-mail platform). Training may take the form of systems training, role-specific training, and on-the-job coaching opportunities to support skill development and learning. While mistakes are bound to be made as new employees get comfortable in their role, employees are no longer happy with having to learn their jobs through a trial-and-error process over several months . And, if you think about it, employees operating at lower levels of productivity (due to lack of training) are probably costing the company.
As I find myself a week into my first real “adult” job, I figured that now was a perfect time to talk about onboarding and a few key components that make onboarding an enriching, worthwhile experience for both the new employee and the company. Obviously, the details that I mentioned are not an all-inclusive list, but rather some highlights that really stand out as being differentiators for your new employee as he or she makes the decision to stay or leave—and knowing that he or she made the right decision to join your company. So, as a quick recap:
- Onboarding should extend beyond the first few days of employment and consists of more than simply filling out paperwork and brief introductions.
- Onboarding should include a significant amount of time for your new employee to get to know you as the manager, but also their coworkers, allowing for meaningful relationships to develop.
- Onboarding should include functional training components so that your new employee can be brought up to speed on your company’s processes, systems, and responsibilities of their role.
So, when you’re thinking about your own onboarding process and how it might be perceived by your new employee, consider the wise words of Mick Jones: “Should I stay or should I go?”
 Allison Ellis, Sushil Nifadkar, Tayla Bauer, & Berrin Erdogan. Your New Hires Won’t Succeed Unless You Onboard Them Properly. HBR.
 Jeana Quigley. Do You Care About Onboarding? You Should! BambooHR.
 Markku Jokisaari & Jari-Erik Nurmi. Change in Newcomers’ Supervisor Support and Socialization Outcomes after Organizational Entry. AMJ.
 Evan Hackel. Don’t Ignore Training when Onboarding New Employees. Training Industry.com